Reuben Abati and the Nigerian Guardian

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Until its asphyxiation and eventual death, the Daily Times of Nigeria was the Mecca of Nigerian journalism. It was home to a multitude of brilliant minds and first rate writers and journalists; and was also a training ground for emerging young Turk most of whom went on to great heights. The Daily Times of the 1960s and 70s helped shape public and private thinking and also influenced how civil servants formulated and implemented policies. It was a time when Nigeria’s role and place within the global community was assured and so domestic and international decision-makers paid attention to its pulse.


The Daily Times was where you went if you wanted to nourish your mind, satisfy your curiosity, sharpen your intellect or simply wanted a peek into the thinking of the elite and the ruling class. A great many debates and analysis took place on the pages of that icon — all to the delight of students, scholars and public servants. Sadly, those days are long gone. That such an institution was allowed to die and disappear from our landscape and our collective consciousness is a sad commentary on our national life and collective value system. However, many enterprising newspapers remain, i.e. the Punch, the Vanguard, Daily Independent, Daily Trust, ThisDay, the Tribune, and the Guardian. Of all the aforementioned however, arguably or inarguably, the Guardian has remained, for the last two decades or so, the closest to Daily Times.


Nevertheless, I and a number of readers are not entirely satisfied with the Guardian. The paper could do more. It should do more. My angst with the Guardian is that in spite of its stated and unstated goals, and considering the resources at its disposal, has not lived up to its billing and potentials. It is simply not enough to declare one’s enterprise the flagship of Nigerian journalism; it is not enough to declare oneself the conscience of the nation. No. The Nigerian Guardian is capable of doing better. And so it must; otherwise, her rivals would come along, inch by inch, step by step to overtake her in the market place of ideas.


The Guardian is the most reputable Nigerian newspaper; yet the Sun (a tabloid) and the Punch regularly outsells it. Why? How? What are these papers doing right that the Guardian is not doing correctly? You have to be aggressive. Go into the community and let the people know you are there. Let them know you have the better product. Resting on ones laurels is a recipe for disaster. Remember what happened to Newswatch after the sad passing of the great Dele Giwa? Whatever happened to MKO’s Concord? Relying on past glory would not do you any good. You must act as though you are just starting afresh — with wide-eye competitors waiting to do you in.


The public face of the Guardian, at least to most of us who live in the Diaspora, is Dr. Reuben Abati. He is the chair of the editorial board — a wiz kid in his younger days who completed his PhD at the tender age of 24. Whether one agrees with him or not, reading him is a great delight. He has a way with words. Every so often however, I find that he vacillates, hedging his position and making ambiguous statements; he shuffles as if afraid to throw the decisive punch. It could be his nature or his training, or perhaps the reality of contemporary Nigeria’s journalistic and political environment; whatever it is, one gets the feeling that he is afraid of something, fearful for his safety. And so he threads lightly.


This is a man who writes and writes and write yet does not offend. Is he that nice? You can tell he is angry at something or somebody, but he keeps himself in check. He coats his language in honey. Or in sweet-sour sauce. But you see; great journalists and great writers offend. They rock the boat. They make public officials uncomfortable. They prick people’s conscience. They make the elites and the ruling classes rethink their position and pronouncements. Great writers tell it the way it is or the way it ought to be. They strive for social change. Somehow, Abati walks and writes gingerly. And so every now and then I “scream at him” telling him to “throw the punch” and not just throw feeble jabs.


What’s more, when was the last time Abati wrote about international affairs? Or does he have disdain for global politics? What are his take on the US-North Korean imbroglio? Does the deafening silence of the Arab League vis-à-vis Israel’s criminality in Lebanon and Gaza bother him? Does he think about the Western Sahara-Morocco conflict? He ought to be talking about these and other matters — not just about domestic policies and wayward politicians in Nigeria. Same can also be said of Dr. Okey Ndibe who is also a fine writer. A look their most recent essays show men who are more comfortable with domestic matters. Please pay attention to international affairs. Please!


Abati may be the public face of the Nigerian Guardian, but those who run the paper are: Emeka Izeze (Editor in Chief); Debo Adesina (Editor); Banji Adisa (Sunday Editor); and Jahman Oladejo Anikulapo (Sunday Editor). They run a good ship; but they could do better. They should strive for greater height. How? For a start call in computer, and related experts, to catalogue the archives and then make it searchable from A-Z. Any newspaper worthy of its pedigree has a searchable archive. In this regard, the Guardian may charge nominal fee for those who want full access to all its materials in the archive.


Redesign the website to make it look more contemporary, friendly and easy to browse. It won’t be considered sinful if the paper borrows a leaf from the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, or the Washington Post. Come to think of it, is there any reason why the Guardian does not have hourly update of events on its websites? My goodness, this is the Guardian, and not some Igboshere newsletter!


Unlike the Punch and Thisday, the Guardian has a working email address. Even so is there any reason why the Guardian does not acknowledge email messages? And then there have been times when emails bounce back to sender. This newspaper will do well to invest in new technology. The publishers can afford the latest technology.


Hire one or two writers with broad understanding of international affairs to man the foreign desk. Nigerians are not dumb; they are not disinterested in international affairs. Therefore, you need journalists or writers to analyze foreign events for your readers — not just report or reproduce what the foreign presses are saying. In addition to international affair writers, you also need experts in the field of

economics and national security to inform your readers of the implication of events or of government policies in those areas.

The Guardian is a “liberal and independent newspaper, established for the purpose of presenting balanced coverage of events, and of promoting the best interests of Nigeria.” However, the time has come when the paper must look beyond the shores of Nigeria and the African continent. We live in an age of globalization. And so the paper must expand its scope and focus and render more news and analysis of global importance. Likewise, the paper should undertake several domestic efforts on how it operates so as to reach a larger audience at home and abroad. In other words, the Guardian needs a makeover.

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lawrence oyeleke September 6, 2010 - 6:05 am

no reference to Igbo as a nation please. I am not sure the writer is even a yoruba man. for Gods sake “Igboshere” is a popular street in Lagos island. it is very close to “Tinubu square” at broad street. It has nothing to do with IGBO and i could see that you never lived in Lagos or maybe you just want to be mitchievious.

Alujo August 14, 2010 - 7:29 pm

The Guardian is still the most prestigious newspaper in Nigeria. It is in a class of its own. It does not engage in mudslinging and neither is the publisher worshipped like God…

Philip Otaigbe Ogbeifun December 22, 2009 - 5:26 pm

I share in a way what the writer is talking about i.e looking for that writer whose shoulder should be a pivot of con-temporal discuss of the present Nigeria dilemma.You see dear writer Reuben Abati is not evasive but he tries discussing issues not as a person who feels he has all the answers.So he should not be pushed into comradeship that brew chaos and instigates anarchy.I think that is his style and he has cut a niche for himself and The Guardian Newspapers.

Misbau Alamu, Esq. August 2, 2009 - 1:40 pm

I share the first writer’s view on the Guardian seeming pro establishment, restrictive, avoidance et al.I however disagree with the writer’s view on Abati.The comment preceding my own is no doubt in error.Igbosere is NOT a reference on Igbos, it a cosmopolitan street in Lagos.I however strongly think that the NATION newspaper is also a good newspaper in terms of content, circulation and professionalism generally.

Gravitas July 16, 2009 - 5:24 pm

S.O. Abidde writes:

“My goodness, this is the Guardian, and not some Igboshere newsletter!”

My Goodness! Why is it that some Yorubas cannot just be professional for once and put aside their tribalism and hatred for Igbos. Let me ask, what is it that the Igbos have to done to you anyway? If anybody has an axe to grind, it will be the Igbos, but that is a topic for another time and place.

This author and Reuben Abati are typical examples of the ever tribalistic subgroup of Yorubas who continue to sow the seed of discord in Nigeria. Sad.

Eze Ogbonna June 10, 2009 - 8:36 am

The article depicts what is lacking in Nigerian journalism today. The Guardian is likened “The New York Times of Nigeria” When I was a journalism student at Times Journalism Institute, Lagos, The Guardian was my best newspaper. I was following the writing styles of the writers of the newspaper.

I will suggest that Guardian should involve more Nigerians who live abroad to write weekly articles or opinions. I live in the United States and I will love to write lives in the United States.

I am impressed with the success of The Guardian newspaper.

Marcel December 26, 2008 - 6:12 pm

Excellent article I will admit. The guardian need to update their contact informations to readers friendly accessible. You cannot even contact the News paper either by phone or via Email. I have been looking for Guardian correspondent in New York for a long time but for no avail. Iam an ardent reader of Dr Abatti writings, he is great and polished writer. He does not have to be confrontational or rude to make his point considering the environment in which he finds himself. Look at what is taking place with Malam Ribadu.

ramatu yakubu December 22, 2008 - 7:58 am

The articule is intresting to reading.but there is a room for them to improve on writing skills and publishing when you say i want to be recongnise you should deliver to.try to bring out the new not hide it.

Ademonehin, Segun December 12, 2008 - 5:59 pm

The article is quite excellent. There is a great need for improvement on good service delivery to the general readers. The public should be enlightened the more. The Guardian should live up to taking its rightful place in Nigeria and be the mirror of our society. Then, the issue of circulation and increase in production should be taken care of so that the paper can have a more wider scope of readership.

Olorunnisola AbdulMujeeb October 17, 2008 - 6:43 pm

I do not agree with the take on Abati. Especially in contrast with articles written by Okey Ndibe. I don’t see Abati as one who pulls punches though I agree that his delivery rarely offends sensibilities, yet he never leaves any doubt as to the point he is making. This I feel is appropriate for public discuss, the genre in which Abati is operating. However, the platform itself is getting lackadaisical. The proof reading that goes into producing the Guardian is suspect, this reduces my opinion of the paper and the suitability for younger readers who may which to improve their written English through reading Guardian .

Olaewe Ewegbemi August 12, 2008 - 2:34 pm

The article raises many issuesw that should help the Guardian in improving its circulation and broader appeal to its readers. The website , for example could benefit from needed improvemnt in terms of navigation and feedback from readers and prospectrive contributors.

I have sent articles in the past to Guradian and other NBigeian newspapers never to get any response . Ironically, if and when such articles were publisged , the only way I learnt of it was through readers who sent me their feedbacks via my email which I often put on articles written by me!

Peter Azobu August 2, 2008 - 4:09 am

This is marvelous. I subscribe entirely to the writers suggestions.Of a truth, Nigeria is blessed with visionary and constructive writers.Even the language owners stand as dwarfs before our imposing men of letters.

I have oftentimes wondered aloud after reading some of our renown writers why we still wallow in the mire of ignorance in governance when as it were, the opinion of our seasoned selfless features writers serve as sufficient syllabus for avowed political leadership.It is the paradox of our identity; we have caps but no heads to wear them.

In the present circumstance where the art of writing is dying out with our modern day graduates, revisiting those gems and allowing a variety of writers could spore many to readership.

Tank you Godwin.

Femi Palmer July 3, 2008 - 9:38 am

I can relate to some of the points this article stated.It is true that there is no harm in being abreast of electronic media technology. A much navigable site would make the pages a delight to read. In addititon, an efficient archive would make research and reference(s) more doable. Although, this would take a while on the part of the library of the Guardian Mgt. But, Hey! what’s your job if not the customer’s satisfaction and delivery of true, objective, and conscientious journalism.

stevenson isaac August 29, 2007 - 8:05 am

i wish to thank the management of the guardian for stil keeping the dream of our forefathers towards honest journalism i hope to join the great moving train of achievement to move nigeria forward

Anonymous June 19, 2007 - 10:04 am

What is the circulation / readership for the Guardian?

Godwin Kwushue July 28, 2006 - 5:02 am

The Guardian Newspaper is one addiction that I have. I am convinced this is one peculiar taste I may not wean myself of and I do not intend to seek any remedy either. My love for the Guardian newspaper started in the 80s when I was a high school student and it has grown stronger ever since.

Though one would expect that, given the standard of journalism that is being practiced at the Guardian one would see a Guardian that is miles ahead of the others in terms of circulation unfortunately that is not the case because the Guardian is a newspaper that is designed in concept to appeal to certain class of people; the learned and enlightened, unfortunately most people that are literate are neither. This situation also may not be unconnected with a certain mentality in our society, the mentality of mass appeal. A professor of theater art may produce a technically sound video film for distribution in Nigeria, he may end up selling just a few copies, you may be surprised that a producer and director without any formal training may also produce a film that experts will give thumbs down in terms of quality, but may do better in the marketplace owing to pandering in content

However the claim that other newspaper sells more than the Guardian newspaper is controvertible even when available circulation statistics supports such claim. The price of a copy of the Guardian is almost twice the price of a copy of the newspapers of competition. I have been out of Nigeria for about two years so I do not know what obtains now but if you fail to get to the vendor before ten a.m. you may have to do without a copy for that day, even when the price is higher. In most cases readers book in advance, you may actually find a few copies left at the news stand, if you arrived at the vendors place in good time. It is my opinion that the managers at the Guardian may not be having sleepless nights over this issue especially when they seem to be reaching their target in terms of readership, their balance sheet may also look better if all other costs are equal.

One cannot deny the fact that the Guardian has gone through some changes in terms of content dues to changes in personnel and contributors over time but the format and the concept has remained the same, the newspaper has been devoid of sensationalism from day one. The period when articles from writers like Stanley Machebuh, Eddie Iroh, Andy Aporugo, Ama Ogan Molara Ogundipe Leslie, Dele Olojede, Bola Ige was regularly featured, was an era. One would recall an article published in the Guardian newspaper that Chief Bola Ige wrote, titled Opus Dei where he enlightened Nigerians on doing Gods Work. I told myself as I read his article that the man has all necessary credentials to teach others on what Gods work is all about, he actually served God when he did his fellow men a world of good by sending the children of the poor to school free of charge, education they say is a leveler. Chief Ige wrote another article so many years later titled Siddon look, this was his response to Babangidas political rigmarole that gave birth to state formed political parties that culminated in the emergence of SDP and NRC. Ige posited that the whole electioneering effort was a ruse, a supposed million miles journey that will definitely end up at a cul de sac. Chief Ige was right there was a presidential election that failed to produce a president. Such was the Guardian Newspaper of that era. You just need to read constantly to predict what tomorrow in Nigeria may look like.

Olatuji Dare was one columnist people who are familiar with the Guardian Newspaper for a very long time may not forget in a hurry, though, it has been so many years since his exit. He has this sublime style that he brings to bear on his social commentary in his column matters arising. For me and my friends Olatunji Dare was a must read. Everyone who read his articles, when he wrote for the Guardian concurred that he was a writer with a peculiar style, this brings me to issue of writers who are being accused of self censorship I think it is a matter of personal comportment and character I do not think it is as a result of fear of any kind. Satire and sarcasm were tools Olatunji Dare does not spare when he plies his trade as a wordsmith. In his writings you may come across a compliment that sounds like an insult or an insult that sounds like a compliment, you may need to read between the lines to know what it was, he could effortlessly dress an insult up in the garb of a compliment without running the risk of a protest from his target.

Things were structured at the Guardian in such a way that a lot of professionals and statesmen were contributing regularly so that there was no dull moment when going through the Op ed page, besides Olatunji Dare, a lot of seasoned writers like Prof Tam David West, Claude Ake Justice Kayode Eso, Rev Hassan Kukah, Prof Oyewale Tomori Chief Tony Enahoro, Chief Gani Fawehinmi

Ebenezer Aloba, Alade Odunewu Alao Aka Bashorun, Ninimo Bassey and Festus Iyayi Prof Green Nwankwo and a host of others were always sending in their views on diverse issues from time to time. Since there was no opposition in Nigeria as at this time in question, respective views advocated on the pages of the Guardian newspaper were the alternative view for some Nigerians then. On the foreign desk the Guardian newspaper had Kingsley Osadolor in southern Africa then as a reporter/analyst one would expect that they will go ahead and post more people to other regions of the world, I think the enormity of the cost played a significant role on further consideration on the matter. Nigeria use to have a lot of young foreign affairs analyst but with the cold war fizzling out a lot of young students who were from different ideological divide saw no reason to continue to sustain their argument that was always laced with foreign affair analysis, However Professor Bolaji Akinyemi, Prof. Gabriel Olusanya and General Tunji Olurin who was particularly an expert on west Africa did justice to any issue when they are invited to give necessary insight.

At the exit of Olatunji Dare one kept wondering if the Guardian Newspaper will continue to hold the same attraction for some of us. I kept buying the Guardian basically to ready the news material not to read the articles in the center page. Eventually I convinced myself that I actually spent money buying this newspaper and I really had to take my time to go through it or else I would be wasting my money. It was this particular period when I was bemoaning the fact that Dare would not be writing anymore that I came across the article of Ruben Abati. I happened upon another article about two days later written by same prolific writer and I came to the conclusion that this fellow may not be Dare but certainly this is another man with a style. After reading Ruben Abati for a couple of weeks I kept pondering about things I have read, who is this guy who writes like one who spent some time as the scribe of biblical Saint Paul I asked myself. One may need to read the admonition of Saint Paul to the church at Ephesus and other churches in his missionary journey to appreciate my point, Abati has deployed logic, legal arguments and moral points to enhance the discourse on issues in the public place through the Guardian Newspaper, he has consistently acted as a watchdog on matters that bothers on code of conduct for public officials and for private individuals in Nigeria as a whole. I am still surprised that anybody could hold the view that Abati acted with circumspection in some of his writings I think he has been calling most spades what they are. His professional training may demand that he says things he may wish to say without leaving any room for those who may be intend on finding faults with him.

It is my view that the Guardian newspaper should continue to encourage some of the former policy makers, retired professional and public officers to continue to write so that their views would constantly add value to the discourse in the public arena. I share the view that the Guardian should consider the idea of archive storage on their website so that researchers the world over could continue to use their materials as reference point.

Godwin Kwushue

San Diego


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